The game of billiards, or pool, as it is known to some, has had some decent representation in the video game world for quite some time. While it may not have as many games as something mainstream like tennis, football or basketball, there have been a few pool games that have graced just about every big system out there. This is no different for the Xbox 360 which, at around the time of the system launch, had a pool game on the Xbox Live Arcade service called Bankshot Billiards 2. It was a simple game that was known for being pretty pricey (around 1200 Microsoft Points or $15) and having a pretty comprehensive list of modes. It was also a pretty good game, which is why it's so surprising to see that no one else has tried to make another game like it on the console. It may have taken four years, but someone has finally come up with another billiards game on the console. Although Inferno Pool tries to do something different with the sport, the end result isn't what anyone was hoping for.
Inferno Pool offers three different modes. There is the standard 9-Ball, which has players trying to sink all of the numbered balls in order until the 9 ball is the last one to hit the pocket. In 8-Ball, players try to sink either spotted or striped balls, depending on what ball was scored first. The player to sink all of their designated balls first and then sink the 8 ball wins the contest. The real difference for the game is a mode called Inferno Pool. Unlike the other games, everyone plays simultaneously, with the goal of sinking their balls as quickly as possible. Every ball sunk goes to the opponent's table and vice versa. This mode also gives players the ability to send over more balls to their opponent once they reach a combo of 10 sunken balls in a row. By the end of the round, whoever has the least amount of balls on their table wins the game.
With so few modes to offer the player, the expectation is that the featured mode would be exciting to play, but this isn't exactly the case. Because the game mode is always on a timer, the nature of the game changes drastically from trying to get in combo shots to mess with the opponent to just trying to sink anything. It devolves into a game of speed pool by this point, so any type of strategy planned beforehand quickly goes out the window. It gets worse when playing against the AI since, no matter what difficulty you put it on, it always seem to sink the balls correctly, causing you to fill up fast and almost always lose the game. This frustration alone will cause many players to abandon this mode in favor of the more traditional ones, which are still fun but provide nothing special for the package.
As far as multiplayer is concerned, local play is the only way to go. The game supports up to four players for Inferno Pool mode and two players for 8- and 9 ball. The added support for Inferno Pool gives players the chance to choose who will receive the extra balls sunk, bringing some strategy to the chaotic nature of the game and making it a bit more fun. If you have no one around to play the game with, though, you have online play for all modes, but at the time of this writing, absolutely no one was available for either game mode in both player and ranked matches.
The controls for Inferno Pool aren't too bad. You can choose everything from the angle at which you want to hit the ball to what spot the cue needs to hit the ball, so trick shots can definitely be done here. As a nice change of pace, the right analog stick controls the shot and shot strength, making it feel more natural, as opposed to just following meters and hoping you aren't a hair over or under what you intended. The issue with the controls comes with the nature of Inferno Pool mode. The intricacies of the controls are useful and appreciated in both 8-Ball and 9-Ball, but with the fast-paced nature of Inferno Pool, being intricate with your shots will almost always lead to failure. The controls then devolve into simply shooting the ball straight, and while it gets the job done, it also makes the controls feel needlessly complex. It also doesn't help that the turning radius governed by the left analog stick seems to be more concentrated on speed rather than precision. Unless you're always steady with the stick, expect a decent chunk of the shots to miss their target because of the lack of fine tuning.
The game's title doesn't really prepare you for its appearance. There's only one environment available, and it's a room filled with rusted metal walls and steel boxes. The lighting is dingy, and the tables all seem worn down and dirty, no matter which felt color you choose. By contrast, the pool balls are pretty shiny, and it's easy to make out the numbers on each one. There's no apparent reason why the environment is the way it is, and with little say in where you get to play, whatever impact the room is supposed to have gets quickly lost. The frame rate holds steady at 60fps, which is always a good thing, and the camera does a good job of following the action. The camera falters once you get into split-screen mode, as it seems to focus on the center of the table instead of giving you a good view of where all of the balls have landed after a shot is taken. More often than not, this is a reason why you'll lose track of where the cue ball is after the shot. The alternative to this would be to go with the overhead cam, and while that works fine in single-player mode, the nature of split-screen makes it useless since it becomes too difficult to see where the pool balls are.
The sound, like the graphics, can be something of an acquired taste. The hitting of the pool balls are nice, though the sounds of explosions for balls being sent over seems to be a tad overdone. The announcer seems like he's trying to channel the attitude and inflections of the Mortal Kombat announcer but can't quite get it down perfectly yet. The music is a mix of hard thumping techno beats that doesn't sound too bad considering the genre but feels alien to a billiards experience, where a player usually needs the music to concentrate as opposed to making them feel the need to hurry things along. Still, it all fits the supposed theme exemplified in the graphics, but if you don't care much for that theme, you won't care much for the sounds, either.
Inferno Pool may offer an interesting variant of the main game, but it doesn't do much else to make it a good alternative to fans of the video game representation of the sport. Aside from the hit-and-miss graphics and sound comes a control scheme that seems too loose at times, thanks to the nature of the game being played. With very few game modes and no online community to speak of, it becomes more and more difficult to recommend this game. If you really crave video game billiards, you'd be better served with Bankshot Billiards 2. With more game modes and the same price tag as this game, there's no reason for Inferno Pool to be a serious alternative.
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